04/16/13: Reuters reports an international team of flu experts will go to China this week to help with investigations into the deadly H7N9 virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday. The new strain of avian flu has killed 14 among 63 people known to have been infected, but no human-to-human spread of the virus has been confirmed. The team includes four specialists in areas such as emerging viruses, human-to-animal flu viruses and epidemiology, as well as an unspecified number of WHO staff, Thomas said. Another WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, said it would be made up of eight people in all. One of the points the mission wants to investigate is how some people seem to fight off the infection. China confirmed on Saturday a seven-year-old child had been infected by the virus in the capital Beijing, the first case outside the Yangtze river delta region in eastern China where the new strain emerged last month. No exact date has been set yet for the arrival of the team which is expected to hold talks in Beijing and visit affected provinces, he said. The mission - made up of American, European, Australian and Chinese experts - will get underway by Saturday and is expected to carry out a week-long study, Thomas said. In a statement issued late on Monday, the WHO said more than 1,000 close contacts of the people confirmed as having H7N9 were being closely monitored for symptoms. "So far, there is no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission," it said.
03/19/13: The New York Times reports two pools for storing spent nuclear fuel remained without vital cooling systems more than 24 hours after a partial power failure at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan on Tuesday, the operator said. The company said it had restored the flow of cooling water to two other pools also affected by the blackout. The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said temperatures in the two uncooled pools still remain well within safe levels. It said its engineers were trying to repair a faulty switchboard that it blamed for the outage that began on Monday night, halting pumps that inject cooling water into the four pools located near the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 reactors. All three of those reactor buildings, which also house the pools, were damaged by hydrogen explosions caused by the triple meltdown at the plant two years ago, after a huge earthquake and tsunami destroyed reactor cooling systems. The company, known as Tepco, said the current loss of cooling water was manageable because temperatures would remain at safe levels for at least four days, and the plant also has backup systems.
03/11/13: The Washington Times reports North Korea has canceled its 60-year-old armistice with South Korea as war games with South Korea and the US began on Monday. An estimated 10,000 South Korean soldiers and 3,000 American troops kicked off a joint 11-day drill. Troops from the South are on high alert as Pyongyang responded to the joint exercise with fresh vows to launch a nuclear attack against the United States. Twice on Monday, the North ignored calls from the South to its hotline. This is the highest tensions have hit between the two nations since the North fired artillery shells at a South Korean island nearly three years ago. The North has purported to nullify the armistice before, however.
02/15/13: The New York Times reports bright objects, apparently debris from a meteor, streaked through the sky in western Siberia early on Friday, accompanied by a boom that damaged buildings across a vast territory. Russia’s Interior Ministry said more than 1,000 people were hurt, 200 of them children, mostly from shards of glass that shattered when the meteor entered the atmosphere. Many of the injuries were suffered by residents of the city of Chelyabinsk, about 950 miles east of Moscow, in a region where many factories for defense, including nuclear weapons production, are situated. But there was no indication of damage that resulted in any radiation leaks, officials said. Russian experts believe the blast was caused by a 10-ton meteor known as a bolide, which created a powerful shock wave when it reached the Earth’s atmosphere, the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement. Scientists believe the bolide exploded and evaporated at a height of around 20 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface, but that small meteorite fragments may have reached the ground, the statement said.
02/11/13: The Miami Herald reports soldiers, sailors and Homeland Security officials came to Guantánamo Bay this weekend to simulate a humanitarian-relief crisis inspired by the tens of thousands of Haitians and Cubans who overwhelmed the base in the 1990’s. The exact nature of the scenario is classified, and only Pentagon-approved photos of the exercise will be released. That’s because nobody wants news about it to touch off a real, live Caribbean exodus. The intent, say organizers, is not to encourage anyone in the Caribbean to get on rafts to reach this Navy base in southeast Cuba, but to be ready in case it happens. One thing they’ll rehearse is registering 1,000 migrants in a single day, and if history is any guide, the actors should cram inside the processing tent, desperate, undocumented and disorganized.
02/04/13: The New York Times reports a secret legal review on the use of America’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the broad power to order a preemptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad. That decision was among several reached in recent months as the administration moves, in the next few weeks, to approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack. The rules will be highly classified, like those governing drone strikes. John Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and his nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, played a central role in developing the administration’s policies regarding both drones and cyberwarfare, the two newest and most politically sensitive weapons in the American arsenal.
01/28/13: The New York Times reports the Pentagon is moving toward a major expansion of its cybersecurity force to counter increasing attacks on the nation’s computer networks, as well as to expand offensive computer operations on foreign adversaries. The expansion announced by defense officials Sunday would increase DOD’s Cyber Command by more than 4,000 people, up from the current 900. As part of the expansion, officials said the Pentagon was planning three different forces under Cyber Command: “national mission forces” to protect computer systems that support the nation’s power grid and critical infrastructure; “combat mission forces” to plan and execute attacks on adversaries; and “cyber protection forces” to secure the Pentagon’s computer systems. In October outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned in dire terms that the United States was increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks.
01/09/13: The New York Times reports the decontamination crews at a deserted elementary school here are at the forefront of what Japan says is the most ambitious radiological cleanup the world has seen, one that promised to draw on cutting-edge technology from across the globe. More than a year and a half since the nuclear crisis, much of Japan’s post-Fukushima cleanup remains primitive, slapdash and bereft of the cleanup methods lauded by government scientists as effective in removing harmful radioactive cesium from the environment. Local businesses that responded to a government call to research and develop decontamination methods have found themselves largely left out. American and other foreign companies with proven expertise in environmental remediation, invited to Japan in June to show off their technologies, have similarly found little scope to participate.
09/29/12: Here are some of the latest technology updates from this week related to national security.
09/22/12: Welcome to the first weekly tech updates post. This will list some of the weeks updates in technology news that may have some impact on national security.
07/13/12: The Washington Times reports the Obama Administration has given the Department of Homeland Security powers to prioritize government communications over privately owned telephone and Internet systems in emergencies. An executive order signed June 6 “gives DHS the authority to seize control of telecommunications facilities, including telephone, cellular and wireless networks, in order to prioritize government communications over private ones in an emergency,” said Amie Stephanovich, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The White House says Executive Order 13618, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, is designed to ensure that the government can communicate during major disasters and other emergencies and contains no new authority.
07/12/12: The Washington Post reports the US Postal Service will perform a dry-run this summer of a program designed to quickly respond to a biological attack on the United States. With a $10 million budget approved by Congress, the postal service is teaming up with the Department of Health and Human Services, state and local health officials, and law enforcement agencies to devise a program that would deliver doses of antibiotics to thousands of households in each city within hours of an attack. The tests follow an executive order President Obama issued three years ago to create a model where postal workers would deliver medication during a biological emergency. The aim is to keep people from panicking as they head to medicine distribution centers and to reduce lines. Letter carriers will be accompanied by police.
07/10/12: The LA Times reports that the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch air samplers, meant to detect a terrorist biological attack, have been plagued by false alarms and other failures. President George W. Bush announced the system's deployment in his 2003 State of the Union address, saying it would “protect our people and our homeland.” Since then, BioWatch air samplers have been installed inconspicuously at street level and atop buildings in cities across the country – ready, in theory, to detect pathogens that cause anthrax, tularemia, smallpox, plague and other deadly diseases. But the system has not lived up to its billing. It has repeatedly cried wolf, producing dozens of false alarms nationwide. Worse, it can’t be counted on to detect a real attack.
06/29/12: The Washington Times reports the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is warning that recent news reports describing a US role in a cyberattack against Iran’s nuclear program will cost the United States dearly. The reports, which said the US and Israel were behind the Stuxnet cyberworm that sabotaged Iran’s uranium processing plants in 2009, started “a very dangerous speculation game that we are all going to pay the price for,” said Representative Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) His comments underline growing concern among some US security officials and private-sector specialists about blowback from the Stuxnet attack itself, like retaliation from Iran, or the proliferation of cyberattacks against the kind of computer-controlled machinery for operations such as factories and city water systems.
05/20/12: The Washington Post reports the Obama Administration is accelerating its planning with Middle Eastern allies for a series of potentially fast-moving crises in Syria in the coming months, including the possible loss of government control over some of the country’s scattered stocks of chemical weapons. The planning, involving intelligence and military officials from at least seven countries, includes detailed arrangements for securing chemical arms with special operations troops in the event that parts of Syria are seized by militants, US and Middle Eastern security officials said. Western and regional intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Islamic extremists could attempt to seize control of whole towns and districts if the country slides into full-scale civil war.
05/05/12: The beSpacific blog reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its partners have released the 2012 National Preparedness Report identifying significant progress the nation has made in areas of prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. These mission areas organize the 31 core capabilities needed to achieve the National Preparedness Goal. Overall the Report found that the nation has increased its collective preparedness, not only from external threats, but also for natural and technological hazards.
05/01/12: CNN reports that authorities have "no indication of any specific, credible threats or plots" against the United States as a result of the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman said. "DHS understands that threats to our security continue to evolve. Although al Qaeda, its affiliates and allies have expressed continued interest to carry out attacks against Western interests, we have no indication of any specific, credible threats or plots against the US tied to the one year anniversary of bin Laden's death," the spokesman said in a statement.
04/24/12: The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute is hosting an event Thursday featuring Kip Hawley, former Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and author of Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security. At the event, Hawley will discuss risk-based, intelligence-driven counterterrorism efforts, and will highlight the layered security approach and advances of TSA technology over the last decade.
04/24/12: The Washington Times reports the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is producing and buying technology before it is fully ready, crippling its efforts to develop a system that can intercept ballistic warheads from Iran or other rogue states, according to federal auditors. A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says problems and test failures last year with the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Aegis sea-borne missile and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense were due to this strategy.
04/23/12: The Miami Herald reports that Court proceedings have begun in Cyprus into last year's explosion of confiscated Iranian gunpowder that killed thirteen people and triggered a political crisis. Eight people, including ex-Foreign Affairs Minister Markos Kyprianou and ex-Defense Minister Costas Papacostas, face charges of manslaughter and negligence causing death. Both men resigned in the wake of the July 11 blast that severely damaged the island's largest power station and touched off weeks of street protests. The two men appeared in a Larnaca courtroom on Monday alongside all the co-accused except former National Guard Chief Petros Tsalikides, a Greek national. The court approved a state prosecutor's request for an arrest warrant against Tsalikides and postponed all proceedings until May 18.
03/31/12: The Washington Post reports that two scientific papers that describe experiments with a virulent and contagious bird flu virus should be published in uncensored form, a committee of scientists advising the federal government said Friday. That recommendation by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity reverses one the committee made in January, when it asked two journals to hold off publishing studies about the lab-engineered strains of the H5N1 influenza virus. The about-face came after the heads of the research teams clarified their work and provided new information on its possible importance at a two-day meeting of the committee in Washington.
03/30/12: CBS News reports that a disaster preparedness exercise to ensure California's child support system could be run remotely went smoothly, except for one casualty: the names, Social Security numbers and other private records of about 800,000 adults and children. Four computer storage devices for the California Department of Child Support Services went missing somewhere between Boulder, Colorado, and Sacramento earlier this month while they were in the possession of IBM and Iron Mountain, Inc, the department announced Thursday.
03/23/12: The Washington Post reports that DHS ranks 31 among 33 large agencies in The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey. “Why Is Employee Morale Low?” asked Thursday’s hearing by the House Homeland Security panel’s subcommittee on oversight, investigations and management. “DHS employees strongly believe in their work and mission,” said Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.). Citing a federal employee survey, he asked: “But what does it say when only 37 percent of DHS employees believe senior leaders motivate them and are satisfied with their senior leaders’ policies and practices?”
03/09/12: The Washington Post reports that Senior Obama administration officials walked some 50 US senators through a cyber-attack scenario Wednesday evening to press for pending legislation that would give DHS the authority to force critical industries to better protect their systems. The scenario: a computer attack on the electricity grid in NYC during a summer heat wave. Using PowerPoint graphics, officials explained that the attack is launched by a software virus inserted into the system when an unsuspecting power company employee clicks on an infected attachment in an e-mail — a technique known as “spear phishing.”
03/08/12: CBS News reports that the US should customize emergency plans for each of its 65 nuclear power plants, a change that in some cases could expand the standard 10-mile evacuation zone in place for more than three decades, an expert panel is recommending. That's one of the lessons to emerge in a 40-page report to be released Thursday — three days before the one-year anniversary of Japan's nuclear disaster — from a committee that examined the incident. The panel includes a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a fellow at an Energy Department laboratory and seven other nuclear scientists.
03/06/12: The Washington Times reports that airport security screeners will increasingly focus on high-risk passengers, although unpopular screening measures — like random pat-downs, even for grannies and babies — are likely to continue for the time being, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Monday. John Pistole told an audience at the National Press Club that the TSA was using cutting-edge technology and better intelligence to “move away from a one-size-fits-all security model” that treats all passengers as equal risks.